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How should I care for my pets during fireworks displays?

Across Australia, there are many celebrations that may involve fireworks. Unfortunately, many animals are terrified by firework displays, and these can indirectly pose risks to animal safety by causing them to take flight and try to escape the loud noises. Dogs and horses in particular often try to run away when frightened by fireworks, and may injure themselves. Many of these animals can end up several kilometres from home. Dogs have been known to jump through plate glass windows to escape loud noises, and easily jump over, or dig their way under fences that would normally contain them.

What can I do for my dog [1, 2]?

  • Prepare early.
  • Talk to your vet about the treatment options available for managing noise phobias – ask them about any new treatment options.
  • Take your dog out for exercise before the fireworks start e.g. a reasonably long walk, then after a couple of hours you can feed them a meal. A tired and well-fed dog may be less anxious during the night. If you can, stay home to be with your pet.
  • Let your dog be with you, remain calm and perform your normal activities. Avoid fussing over your pet excessively as this may encourage anxious behaviour. Try to engage them in normal activities such as playing. Reward your dog for their calm behaviour, rewards include giving dog treats and their favourite dog toy.
  • Keep your dog indoors if possible, close the blinds/curtains to decrease visual stimuli, and create a comfortable hiding place. An example of a hiding place can be a cardboard box with blankets inside. Cover the box with another blanket and put on some soft music or the TV to help mask the noise outside.
  • Distract your dog with games and food. Do not force these on your dog if they want to hide instead.
  • Do not punish your dog if they show signs of fear and distress.
  • Dogs who panic can choke themselves on a collar or lead, so never tether your dog during these times and never use a choke chain to restrain your dog.
  • Make sure your dog is microchipped and that your contact details are up to date on the microchip register. Also ensure they are wearing an ID tag with your up to date contact details, so they can be easily returned if they accidentally escape.
  • Direct supervision is important to help prevent injury or escape. If you cannot supervise your dog on the night consider making alternative arrangements so your dog will be supervised by a responsible person directly or you could even consider boarding your dog with a good and reputable boarding kennel so they will be safe.
  • Dog-appeasing pheromones may help to reduce the intensity of fear in your dog, and can help create a calming environment.
  • Dogs should not be left outside alone as this greatly increases the risk of them experiencing fear and distress as well as a greater likelihood of escape.

What about cats, rabbits and other pets?

Cats should be kept indoors during fireworks displays. Most cats will find somewhere safe to hide and will usually venture out when the noise stops; ensure that they have some comfortable and safe places to hide Make sure you cat is microchipped and your details are up to date on the microchip register in case they escape and become lost. Rabbits and other small animals like guinea pigs should be safely housed during the fireworks display.

Horses are particularly vulnerable to bolting when exposed to fireworks. A recent study in New Zealand found that a large number of owned horses escape in response to fireworks [3]. Some horses come back with lacerations, strains and broken limbs. In preparation for a known fireworks event nearby, if possible, horses should be securely stabled or temporarily moved to a location away from the fireworks display, to minimise the risk of them physically harming themselves. Any sharp objects that might injure a panicking horse should be removed, stable windows should be covered to hide the sight of the fireworks and to reduce the noise, and food and water should be available for the horse [4].

Wildlife are also affected by the unexpected noises and bright lights fireworks produce. Wild birds will often take flight due to fear and panic, and can sustain injuries as a result of flying into each other, trees, fences, and buildings [5]. Larger animals like kangaroos, wallabies and wombats may escape from the noise, and end up on roads, which may result in them being injured or killed by vehicles. Firework debris is also toxic if ingested by animals. Contact your local wildlife carer organisation if you have any concerns about risks to local wildlife.

Enjoy fireworks responsibly, and make precautions to protect your pets and wildlife.

Dates to watch out for:

Australian Capital Territory

  • Queen’s birthday long weekend
  • Duration of the Canberra Show
  • Summernats Festival
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Australia day
  • Skyfire at Enlighten Festival

New South Wales

  • Duration of the Sydney Royal Easter Show
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Australia day
  • Saturday night fireworks displays at Darling Harbour
  • Gunning Fireworks Show
  • ActewAGL Queanbeyan show

Northern Territory

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Australia day
  • Territory Day July 1

Queensland

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Australia day
  • Brisbane Riverfire
  • Duration of the Ekka
  • Chinese New Year Festival, Cairns

South Australia

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Australia day
  • Duration of the Adelaide Royal Show

Tasmania

  • Regatta night
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Australia day
  • Cracker night Hobart

Victoria

  • Australia Day
  • The Moomba Festival
  • Duration of the Royal Melbourne Show
  • New Year’s Eve

Western Australia

  • New Year’s Eve
  • New Year’s Day
  • Australia Day Skyshow
  • Duration of the Perth Royal Show
  • Canning Show

The above are only a small proportion of the fireworks displays around Australia. Please remember to check your local government’s website for fireworks displays in your area, and take steps to protect your animals.

References

[1] Sheppard G & Mills DS (2003) Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks. The Veterinary Record 152: 432-436. doi:10.1136/vr.152.14.432

[2] Vet Voice (2018) Six tips to help pets cope with fireworks. (accessed on Aug 29 2019).

[3] Gates M et al (2019) Owner perceptions and management of the adverse behavioural effects of fireworks on companion animals: an update. New Zealand Veterinary Journal. doi: 10.1080/00480169.2019.1638845

[4] Gronqvist G et al (2016) The management of horses during fireworks in New Zealand. Animals 6(3): 20. doi: 10.3390/ani6030020

[5] Shamoun-Branes J et al (2011) Birds flee en mass from New Year’s Eve fireworks. Behavourial Ecology. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arr102

Updated on October 8, 2019
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-should-i-care-for-my-pets-during-fireworks-displays/

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